Friday, April 29, 2011
"Fashion is identity politics by other means."
Imagine this scenario. You’re a teenage boy. You go to high school, like everyone else your age. And you get sent to the principal’s office because of the shoes you’re wearing. Now consider what kind of shoes would draw that kind of attention. Really dirty and stinky shoes? Shows plastered with Nazi or other hate symbols? No: high heels. According to this Daily Caller/Fox News story via Yahoo News, “A teacher notified the school principal and said that the boy’s high heels were distracting to the classroom. Principal Bob Heilmann reports there was name calling, so he instructed the young man to remove the shoes.”
The principal justified his actions by appealing to the need of protecting the student from the potential bullying that could arise from veering too far away from “the norm.” Safety was also the reason he gave for persuading a boy who wore a dress to school to change his clothes.
According to the story, students interviewed by the news team were generally of the opinion that a boy wearing heels wasn’t a big deal.
Although thankfully this is one of those ghastly stories in which somebody was beaten to death for being different, it’s just the sort of story that highlights the difficult social dynamics of fitting in and simultaneously maintaining a separate identity. At the intersection of these two poles: gender concepts, and the bias that is evident even in the reporting of this incident. Scroll down towards the embedded video and you’ll find a caption that says, WATCH: How Riverview High School handled a male student who wore female footwear. (Emphasis mine.)
The article begins with assumptions about gender and fashion, namely, that women wear heels and men don’t, therefore high heels are “female footwear.” It’s not simply a bias that can be attribute to the general nature of Fox News reporting, but just the sort of cultural assumption that enforces and symbolizes gender roles through fashion. Imagine how the story would play out if we didn’t begin by assuming that footwear has gender. Suddenly, a boy wearing high heels would be just what we see – a boy wearing high heels.
This is, of course, just the sort of concern that regularly threads discussions over at Every Clog Has Its Day, in which Lindsey and regular commenters wonder why the chunky clogs, heeled or not, have been marginalized into the women’s footwear category. On a broader social scale, a recent piece by The Front Page Online columnist Jessica Gadsden asks why people are so obsessed with her baby’s gender. She writes:
“To the extent that I can, I’ve branched out: orange, green, red. But then my baby often gets mistaken for a girl. Truth is, I don’t really mind. It’s just that I can’t figure out what happened to the varied, gender irrelevant, sturdy kids’ clothing of my youth: rugged overalls, thick cotton tee-shirts, sweaters and white, blue or grey sneakers.”
Instead of the gender-neutral clothes she is hoping to find, Jessica is confronted by the pervasive pink-ruffle-princess stereotype for girls and blue-camo-sheriff stereotype for boys – stereotyping, you may recall, that led to the frenzy around a mom who supported her 5-year-old son’s decision to dress up as Scooby-Doo’s Daphne for Halloween.
Nevermind the fact that the history of fashion fully illustrates that men’s clothes were once just as colourful and dynamic as women’s clothes are today; the point is that fashion is mirroring our cultural character. Apparently, that character is still extremely insecure about gender given its relentless focus on making sure that everyone is properly classified, compartmentalized, categorized, and otherwise filed in the correct gender category.
In some cases, like raising children, the identity politics are blatant. Yet it falls to cases like the boy wearing “female footwear” to highlight just how deeply gender constructs are ingrained in the collective unconscious (to borrow a turn of phrase). It’s not unlike the way some people say, with thoughtless brutality, that something they don’t approve is “so gay.” This is like taking a knife and stabbing someone in the heart of who they are. Forcing people to be against their own true selves inevitably leads to tragic consequences.
If society will hold up fashion as a symbol capable of expressing something about us – think business suit as a symbol of professionalism or a skirt as a symbol of femininity – then shouldn’t we hold fashion accountable for the harm it does as well as the good? Let me rephrase that in a more philosophically correct way: shouldn’t we hold ourselves accountable for the way in which we use fashion? It seems to me the answer is obvious, and it begins with seemingly little things like assuming there is such a thing as female (or male) footwear.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
The USA Water Polo Team – silver medal winners of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China – has just made REUSE Jeans its official denim wear. In itself, this sort announcement in a press release wouldn’t catch my attention. But on reading that REUSE Jeans is committed to sustainability and offering eco-friendly denim wear, all through a commitment to authenticity, my curiosity was piqued. Responding to the problem of textile waste – their website cites the EPA statistic that in 2006 alone, Americans generated 11.8 million tons of waste – REUSE offers jeans and other denim wear that are made from 80% recycled fabric.
Among their offerings for women are...
Boot cut jeans like Renewed ($95):
Skinny jeans, some with solid(ish) colours and others, like Tie Dye Destruct (95$), with patterns:
They also have some saucy little skirts and shorts of the Daisy Duke kind...
For the prices and eco-conscience, REUSE certainly seems to be a brand ladies might find worth checking out when looking for some sexy piece of denim to wear.
But if being green isn’t enough, the press release also made an announcement that took my curiosity and, well, pick your cliché – pumped it up, took it up a notch, bam! Not only is REUSE the official denim-monger of the USA Water Polo Team, but they just launched a men’s collection. Huzzah! Included are styles like...
Unfortunately, at $140 - $45 more than their female counterparts – the men’s jeans are not so accessible. At least, not for the likes of my poor wallet. Another minor disappointment: no real variety in colours or styles. Other than a grey style, blue and indigo are the options. And forget skinny jeans or, for the really bold, tasteful flares. Still, what they do offer looks good and, hopefully, wears with wicked comfort like a $140 pair of jeans should.
In any case, I suppose one has to start somewhere; at the beginning. The recycled fabric concept is exactly what our poor planet needs, and overall they have stylish cuts. I’m hoping that by the time I’m ready to replace my own denim that REUSE will have expanded their men’s offering across styles, colours, and price levels.
But wait! As the infomercials say, there’s more! It would be perfectly natural to go beyond materials to ask, where are REUSE Jeans made? Before you say, under your breath, “not China,” the answer is…China. Before getting too disappointed, though, it’s worth considering their admittedly startling reasoning. From their website:
“As a region that has long been the center of inexpensive manufacturing, without regard to environmental preservation, China’s landfills are fraught with textile waste, while the air in many urban settings has been deemed unsafe. Notably, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, on certain days, one-fourth of the particulate matter (dust and soot) in Los Angeles originates from China. By helping to reverse the damage in China, we’re not only cleaning-up Asia, but we’re also contributing to a healthier Earth.”Makes sense to me, and I think with that sort of innovative thinking REUSE Jeans is proving itself to be a brand to watch out for. Three cheers for eco-friendly fashion!
Note: Images borrowed from REUSE Jeans’ website for illustrative purposes only. Many thanks to Tricia Kent from Public Relations Divas for bringing REUSE to my attention.
Friday, April 15, 2011
First, many apologies for the inconsistent posting. Sometimes life gets a wee bit demanding and priorities demand, well, prioritization. Thanks for bearing with me. Please note that I’ll be switching my posting “schedule” to later in the week –Thursday or Friday – instead of the vaguely middlish of the week I’ve been attempting to stick with.
With that out of the way, I’m pleased to discuss my latest acquisition and no, it’s not a pair of shoes. This means you won’t get a picture of my feet in a snazzy new pair of sandals, but this instead:
That’s right, I got a new ear.
I mean, I got new earrings for my old ear. My previous pair were those captive bead rings you get from the tattoo shop that happens to pierce your ear. After, oh, five years or so I decided it was time for a change. Why?
- Because they were a pain in the posterior to put on after taking them off, and I didn’t like taking them off consider what it took to put them in the first time around.
- I wanted something more refined. (I’d been told a few times that people liked the earrings but would have preferred a different style. I agree.)
In the process of hunting for something suitable, I rediscovered Etsy. I had no idea how much clothing and jewelry you could find there, although I should have known given that I know a few people who sell their hand-made wares through the site. Among the goodies I came across:
Gladiator sandals by Debbie Leather ($299.95):
Thaitee’s colourful fisherpants ($25):
But it was these stainless steel beauties by 360Jewels from Brea, Orange County, that I was looking for:
Chic, designer, minimalist, easy to handle, and a deal at $16. I’ve been wearing them for about a week and I love 'em.
360Jewels and 360JewelsElite are really quite a nifty discovery, actually, especially because they have an impressive men’s collection. Here are a few other noteworthy items from a surprisingly large selection of noteworthy items.
I may have to shop there again.
But back to Etsy and the embarrassing fact I’m late to the party. What’s really getting my attention is that Etsy makes it easy to support artisans who hand-make their own products, a good proposition to us fashionistas who don’t want to support exploitative labour in foreign countries. Given how many vendors I’ve seen, particularly cobblers and tailors, are willing to custom-make their products, and how many source ethical materials, Etsy already presents a huge advantage over mass-produced items in box stores. In fact, I’m going to start a “best of Etsy” feature of some kind here at the Fashionoclast. While I’m figuring out what shape that feature will take – weekly posting, sidebar listing, monthly digest, or something else – I’d love to hear from you. Have you had great experiences with an Etsy vendor? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll use it for that future feature. Of course, you’re welcome to share your bad experiences too, as a warning to others...
Usual disclaimer: Images borrowed from their respective owner's Etsy shops for illustrative purposes only. If the images owner's want me to take them down, I will.